CHAMPIONS
U.S. Junior Champions Power Americans to Spirit Title October 16, 2015 | Far Hills, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

From left to right, Philip Barbaree Jr., Will Zalatoris, Mariel Galdiano and Hannah O'Sullivan rallied the USA to The Spirit International title. (Spirit International) 

A brilliant putting performance from reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Philip Barbaree Jr. helped the United States overcome a two-stroke deficit with three holes remaining to edge Mexico and win The Spirit International Amateur Championship on Oct. 14 at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas.

Barbaree, 17, of Shreveport, La., converted birdie putts of 18 feet and 15 feet, respectively, on holes 16 and 17 to rally the Americans to their fourth consecutive victory in this biennial competition. His teammate and 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Will Zalatoris, 19, -of Plano, Texas, capped the victory with a two-putt par on No. 18 after Mexico failed to convert a long birdie putt that would have forced a playoff.

The USA, with help from the female duo of 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Hannah O’Sullivan, 17, of Chandler, Ariz., and 2015 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Mariel Galdiano, 17, of Pearl City, Hawaii, finished with a 54-hole total of 38-under-par 394. Mexico took home the silver medal at 395, with Spain earning the bronze at 33-under 399.

Galdiano converted a 20-foot downhill birdie putt on 18 to give the USA its final one-stroke advantage in the team competition.

Said Galdiano, who finished one stroke behind Megan Khang for low-amateur honors in the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club: “I knew it was an important putt, and I was shaking a little. I made the best stroke I could and watched it go in the hole.”

“Putting is the best part of my game and my team sort of relied on my putting this week,” said Barbaree, who rallied from a 5-down deficit over the final seven holes to defeat Andrew Orischak in 37 holes for the U.S. Junior Amateur title in July at Colleton River Club’s Dye Course in Bluffton, S.C.

Based on their combined performances in the biennial World Amateur Team Championships, 20 countries are invited to compete in The Spirit International. Each country selects two male and two female players to compete in a 54-hole, best-ball format. Medals are awarded in five categories: overall, men’s team, women’s team, men’s individual and women’s individual.

Spirit alumni include several major champions, including 2015 U.S. Open and Masters champion Jordan Spieth, himself a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion (2009 and 2011).

Other past competitors include Jason Day, of Australia (2015 PGA champion); five-time women’s major champion Yani Tseng, of Chinese Taipei; 2014 ANA Inspiration winner and 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lexi Thompson; 2014 U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, of Germany; 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer; 2012 U.S. Women’s Open champion Na Yeon Choi, of the Republic of Korea; two-time women’s major champion Lorena Ochoa, of Mexico; four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith; 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa; and 2014 Evian champion Hyo-Joo Kim, of the Republic of Korea.

The USA has claimed five of the eight titles, with England winning consecutive championships in 2005 and 2007 and Mexico the inaugural event in 2001.

Barbaree won the individual gold medal in a playoff over Min Woo Lee, of Australia, sinking a 15-foot putt on the first extra hole to earn an exemption into a yet-to-be-determined 2016 Web.com Tour event. The high school junior, who has announced his intention to enroll at Louisiana State University in the fall of 2017, recorded nine birdies in the second round as the American men posted a 12-under 60 over the 7,382-yard course.

In the men’s competition, Zalatoris and Barbaree combined to shoot 24-under 192 to defeat France by four shots for the gold medal. Spain settled for the bronze at 198.

Zalatoris has returned to competition after being sidelined for a couple of months this summer due to an emergency appendectomy. He said winning two gold medals in The Spirit event was a highlight of his burgeoning amateur career, which includes 2014 victories in the Texas Amateur, Trans-Mississippi Championship and U.S. Junior Amateur, in which he defeated Davis Riley, 5 and 3, in the 36-hole championship match.

“You could argue any of those wins were the best, but this is No. 1 for me,” said Zalatoris, who is a sophomore at Wake Forest. “We won gold for our country. That’s in a whole different category by itself.”

Mexico, behind the play of 2015 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Maria Fassi and Ana Paula Valdes, claimed the women’s team title at 21-under 195. That was four strokes better than England, which took home the silver medal after a final-round 62 on the 6,314-yard layout. England was led by two-time Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup competitor Bronte Law and Hayley Davis. Finland, Spain and Sweden shared the bronze medal at 15-under 201.

“This means a lot because as a team we struggled and fought hard all week,” said Fassi, who earned individual gold by converting 17 birdies and one eagle during the three-day event. She topped co-silver medalists Law and Sweden’s Emma Hendrickson by five strokes. “For me to win two gold medals for Mexico is unbelievable. I hung in there and stayed patient and results came.”

Rob Addington, the executive director of the Texas Golf Association and USA captain, had three goals for the week.

“We wanted to be good ambassadors for the game of golf,” said Addington. “We wanted to have fun, and we wanted to win. I think we checked off all three boxes.”

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